Suno suno hum the tees maar khan…”
Yes, the much anticipated (by me) Tees Maar Khan is finally here and it is magnificent. Directed by Farah Khan, the film is a love letter to masala films and a giant FU to an industry that has mostly stopped making them.
Akshay Kumar stars as Tabrez Mirza Khan a.k.a. master criminal Tees Maar Khan. After breaking out of police custody (again), TMK is hired by the Johri Brothers (Raghu Ram and Rajiv Laxman) to rob a train carrying millions of rupees worth of valuable cargo. To accomplish this, TMK stages a film shoot in the out of the way village of Dhuliya and he tricks his ditzy girlfriend Anya (Katrina Kaif) and superstar Aatish Kapoor (Akshaye Khanna) into playing the lead roles – because who would ever suspect a film crew? That’s the set-up but the fun is in the details.
The film starts slow but ramps up for Anya’s introduction song “Sheila Ki Jawaani” and then takes off into la la land after “Wallah Re Wallah” and doesn’t back down until the end. The music is great and the songs are well-placed. And after seeing “Wallah Re Wallah,” I’m going to have to edit my list of favorite dances. I have never wanted a song to be in 3D more than this one – the way those scarves were flying around was a treat!
Shirish Kunder, who was behind the much loved (by me) Jaan-e-Mann, gives the film the same gleefully absurdist treatment. TMK has a trio of henchmen who wear clothes with his image on them; the Johri Brothers are conjoined twins; and disguises flow fast and furious. At one point, one of TMK’s henchmen picks up a phone from out of nowhere and hands it to TMK and tells him to call Sallu-bhai. Which he does. Realism is country far, far away from this la la land. The dialogues are sharp but a lot of what I enjoyed in the dialogues was the performance of them - Akshay putting on a “Hollywood” accent; the Johri Brothers speaking in unison at all times; jokes coming from repetition of lines in a scene; running jokes threaded through the entire film until just the words “Oscar” can generate a giggle. And excellent comic timing from the entire cast.
Running through the entire film is this snarky attitude towards the kinds of Hollywood-aping films that are being made these days in Bollywood. Aatish Kapoor desperately desires an Oscar™ and knows that the only way to get it is to play a poor Indian. Anya, the ditzy actress, considers posing and make-up to be integral to the acting process and with her fluffy pink mirror reminded me of Simran from I Hate Luv Storys. But don’t think that the whole film is mean-spirited because while Aatish the Superstar is a Hollywood-grubbing dummy, TMK gets to discover the true meaning of community and how cinema can unite people. If the snark is pure Shirish, the message that films can provide excitement and a dose of the sublime to ordinary people is all Farah.
While there have been rumors going around and around for the last few months about how Shahrukh Khan was originally offered the lead role but after seeing the film, I think Akshay is wonderful as TMK. He’s smart, sexy, funny and exactly the right choice for the sharp edges of Shirish Kunder’s script. If there is anybody who has been on the wrong side of Hollywood-aping Bollywood, it is my beloved Akshay Kumar. He doesn’t have the time to take years to make a single perfect film nor does he have an eye for the good art house scripts (look, I saw 8 x 10 Tasveer, I can say that). He’s a Hero of the masses in an industry that has been more interested in making films for the multiplexes as of late and when Akshay talks about Oscar™ winning films about those poor Indians, there is a real bite to it that I don’t think Shahrukh would have added. It would have been a different film – sweeter and less interesting.
And the main cast keeps up with him. Katrina Kaif is hilarious as the ditzy Anya. She puts on her best Lorelei Lee and just runs with it and we’ll be seeing “Sheila” at awards ceremonies for at least the next year. Akshaye Khanna is a revelation as Aatish Kapoor! The scene where TMK first approaches him for a role in his film is the best thing I have seen all year. Dot. Where has Akshaye Khanna been hiding these comedy chops? His timing with Akshay was great and I hope we see the two of them together again.
I’d also like to give a special nod to Arya Babbar, who will soon be a Briyanshu favorite, as the swarthy, shirt-ripping village policeman and to my one of my favorite side-players Murli Sharma who showed up as a special agent.
Tees Maar Khan is the kind of film that gives the audience time to cheer for the hero when he makes his entrance; the kind of film in which the hero breaks the 4th wall or calls his friend Salman Khan; in which the character actors are all fun to watch; the kind of film that when given the choice between “realism” and “la la land” picks the latter every time. In short, it’s the kind of film I love.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it, but for now, I’ll sign off here.